Confessions of a failed eclipse photographer

Aug 28, 2017

David Perry Lawrence

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Confessions of a failed eclipse photographer

Aug 28, 2017

David Perry Lawrence

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I’ve dreamed of seeing a total eclipse of the sun all my life. When I read there was one on August 21st that passed dead-center over the town of Newberry SC, I was overjoyed. This was my chance. My wife and I had lived in Newberry in 2013. I had friends there. I had a place to stay. I wouldn’t need to pay $1000 for a hotel room.

I had friends who owned Enoree River Vineyards and Winery (a slight plug for a great vineyard and great wine.) They were throwing a party for 300 people at their winery. My friend even had an official pair of Newberry Eclipse 2017 glasses saved for me. I bought a 4×4 ND5 SolarLite polymer filter sheet from Thousand Oaks Optical, the good stuff, and made a filter holder to that I could quickly remove it from the front of my 300mm lens, 450mm on my crop frame D7100, when totality climaxed. I read everything I could find about shooting the eclipse and studied a myriad of images. I wanted to have a great picture to hang on my wall to remind me of the experience and, I admit, to brag about. I was pretty well set.

I planned and planned, but I knew there would be some problems. The eclipse would be total at 2:40 EDT. That’s 1:40 pm in real time. Though not overhead, the sun would be pretty high in the sky. I’m 6’5, 70 years old, don’t have great balance, and just don’t do-high-in-the-sky very well anymore. It’s hard for me to get under a camera that is looking up that much, much less focus it. When the eclipse started at 1:11 EDT — 12:10 in real time, the sun was almost completely overhead. I was able to get some shots off – though I struggled to get the sun in the frame. There are no reference points in a black sky. There is no saying ‘a little to the left of that tree’ or ‘just over that house’. Either the sun is in a completely black frame or it isn’t, and most of the time it isn’t, and neither is anything else. I found myself, without any special tripod, just looking at a black sky, panning around hoping the sun would pass by, and that I’d be able to lock the camera in place before I moved it out of the frame.

By the time the totality came, my camera and I were completely confused. Having to do something, I just hand-held a few shots. I knew they would be worthless – but I had to do something.  It turns out I was right. They were trash.


While preparing for the shoot, I read an article that said not to even waste your time trying to photograph it. Experience it instead. I can’t agree more. ‘Experience’ is the key word – there is far more to experiencing one than just seeing one. And no mere photograph can do one the slightest amount of justice. They are just photographs, but an eclipse is an ECLIPSE!

You might think this is sour grapes, but I’m so glad that once I realized things were going downhill, I put my camera down and just soaked it in. I don’t miss having a photo that I took myself hanging on my wall. I don’t miss having a picture that I took being published somewhere. I don’t miss having the chance to brag about my picture and telling people how hard it was to create. I was there with 300 other people from all over the world witnessing a TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN!!!

A total eclipse is something you can’t forget. There is nothing like it in all of nature. If you didn’t know about them, and one occurred, you would think the world might be coming to an end – or that the gods were staring down at you, and not in a friendly way. Imagine the sun, who’s rising in the East and setting in the West is a constant in life, simply disappearing in the middle of the day. The only thing that keeps us from thinking an eclipse is completely, utterly, insanely supernatural is that we have read about them and know when they are coming. Mark Twain had this in mind when he wrote “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

At totality, the sky goes dark. A wind comes up; it gets cool; the world gets quiet. The bright corona makes the sun look like the pupil of a giant eye in the sky menacingly surrounded by a cold white fire. The world around you turns an eerie blue; planets come out and become brightly visible.

I’ll never forget seeing this eclipse, and I’ll tell my grand kids about it. There is another one coming in 2024 that passes right over Dallas, where my kids and grand kids, and maybe even great-grand kids by then, live, and perhaps I’ll get a great picture of it, like so many I have seen of this eclipse. Or maybe I’ll leave all that behind and just soak it in. As I wrote at the beginning, I’ve dreamed of seeing a total eclipse all my life. I’m not disappointed that I didn’t get a great photograph of this one.

About the Author

David Perry Lawrence is a retired professional photographer from Dallas, TX. He spent his career photographing celebrities, politicians (working for several Presidents of the United States), and leaders in business.  He studied photography with the late Walker Evans at Yale University. After three years in Mexico, he is now living in Greenfield, WI with his wife Judy and two Mexican cats. He currently photographs flowers in his studio, and his prints have been finalists in national juried competitions and have been hung in galleries across the States. You can see more of David’s work on his website. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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5 responses to “Confessions of a failed eclipse photographer”

  1. Douglas Smith Avatar
    Douglas Smith

    I didnt even try it. I just enjoyed the experience through my eyes and not my lens

  2. catlett Avatar

    I had the issue of shooting straight up. Knowing how much time I actually had to adapt helped. Not to make you feel worse but my solution, shortened the tripod legs and laid on the ground the whole time. Another problem was tracking with the moving sun which ultimately I found it easier to barely nudge a tripod leg than to deal with adjusting the ball head. I studied lots of stuff ans still I would have likely failed if I hadn’t written down my shooting plan because I had enough to adjust to without those complications.

    Anyway, super glad I didn’t listen to the person that wrote the article saying don’t bother. I got phases, lots of brackets of total with Bailey’s Beads, different corona looks and Diamond Ring.

    1. Ralph Hightower Avatar
      Ralph Hightower

      I did many of the same things. my tripod legs weren’t extended and I laid on the ground to aim. I practices several days before the eclipse to sight the sun. What I did was use a windbreaker to drape over my camera and lens to block out the light so I could see the sun in the viewfinder.
      I have a pan/tilt head on my tripod and I mounted the camera “backwards” on the tripod so that the tilt lever is under the lens; that way, I was able to tilt higher than the limits of my pan/tilt head had the camera been mounted in a normal manner.

  3. soul68 Avatar

    I had wished to get some photographs but was also wary of missing out. I downscaled my efforts and decided to remove the telescope from the equation. I just set my 7D on a tripod with the same Thousand Oaks filter and DIY filter holder.

    I had been reading e-books from experienced eclipse photographers and one passage stood out. Practice shooting the day before as if you were choreographing a dance.

    I practiced blindly shooting the eclipse the night before, counting the steps each hand would take. I did it over and over until I felt like it was second nature.

    This allowed me to capture enough exposures so i could post-process them and still just keep looking up. It is such a breathtaking experience if you aren’t prepared, then yes, its a good idea to just set down that camera and watch, because in the moment you’re so damn excited.

    In the end I got the shots I wanted, although I did get a little camera shake since I was adjusting the exposure with each shot. But out of 14 shots, I got enough to make something special.

  4. Rebecca Maier Avatar
    Rebecca Maier

    I didn’t photograph it. Some things in life you just got to enjoy the moment your living in. Sometimes with a camera you get so consumed.